Sir James Steuart (1767)
I resume the subject, which, as a rest to the mind, I dropt at the end of the 19th chapter.
I am now to treat directly of inland commerce, which has been sufficiently distinguished from infant, and foreign trade.
We are to consider ourselves now as transported into a new country, where foreign trade had been carried to the greatest height possible; until the luxury of the inhabitants, the carelessness, perhaps, of the statesman, and the natural advantages of other nations, added to the progress of their industry and refinement, had concurred to cut it off, and thereby to dry up the source which had till then been constantly augmenting the national opulence.
We must examine the natural effects of this revolution; we must point out how every inconvenience proceeding from it may be avoided, and how a statesman may regulate his conduct, so as to prevent the exportation of any part of that wealth which the nation may have heaped up within herself, during the prosperity of her foreign trade. How he may keep the whole of his people constantly employed, and by what means he may promote an equable circulation of domestic wealth, through the hands of the lower classes, which will prove an adequate equivalent given by the rich, for the services rendered them by the industrious poor. How, by a judicious imposition of taxes, he may draw together an equitable proportion of every man's annual income, without reducing any one below the standard of a full physical-necessary. How he may, with this public fund, preserve in vigour every branch of industry, and be enabled also, by the means of it, to profit of the smallest revolution in the situation of other nations, so as to reestablish the foreign trade of his own people. And lastly, how the society may be thereby sufficiently defended against foreign enemies, by a body of men regularly supported and maintained at the public charge, without occasioning any sudden revolution hurtful to industry, either when it becomes necessary to increase their numbers, in order to carry on an unavoidable war, or to diminish them, upon the return of peace and tranquility. This is, in few words, the object of a statesman's attention when he finds himself at the head of a people living upon their own wealth without any mercantile connections with strangers.
How hurtful soever the natural and immediate effects of political revolutions may have been formerly, when the mechanism of government was more simple than at present, they are now brought under such restrictions, by the complicated system of modern oeconomy, that the evil which might otherwise result from them may be guarded against with ease.
As often, therefore, as we find a notable prejudice resulting to a state, from a change of their circumstances, gradually taking place, we may safely conclude, that negligence, or want of abilities, in those who have the direction of public affairs, has more than any other cause been the occasion of it.
It was observed, in the third chapter of the first book, that before the introduction of modern oeconomy, which is made to subsist by the means of taxes, a state was seldom found to be interested in watching over the actions of the people. They bought and sold, transferred, transported, modified, and compounded productions and manufactures, for public use, and private consumption, just as they thought fit. Now it is precisely in these operations that a modern state is chiefly interested; because proportional taxes are made to affect a people on every such occasion.
The interest the state has in levying these impositions, gives a statesman an opportunity of laying such operations under certain restrictions; by the means of which, upon every change of circumstances, he can produce the effect he thinks fit. Do the people buy from foreigners what they can find at home? he imposes a duty upon importation. Do they sell what they ought to manufacture? he shuts the gates of the country. Do they transfer or transport at home? he accelerates or retards the operation, as best suits the common interest. Do they modify or compound what the public good requires to be consumed in its simple state? he can either prevent it by a positive prohibition, or he may permit such consumption to the more wealthy only, by subjecting it to a duty.
So powerful an influence over the operations of a whole people, vests an authority in a modern statesman, which in former ages, even under the most absolute governments, was utterly unknown. The truth of this remark will appear upon reflecting on the force of some states, at present in Europe, where the sovereign power is extremely limited, in every arbitrary exercise of it, and where, at the same time, it is found to operate over the wealth of the inhabitants, in a manner far more efficacious than the most despotic and arbitrary authority possibly can do.
It is the order and regularity in the administration of the complicated modern oeconomy, which alone can put a statesman in a capacity to exert the whole force of his people. The more he has their actions under his influence, the easier it is for him to make them concur in advancing the general good.
Here it is objected, that any free people who invest a statesman with a power to control their most trivial actions, must be out of their wits, and considered as submitting to a voluntary slavery of the worst nature, as it must be the most difficult to be shaken off. This I agree to; supposing the power vested to be of an arbitrary nature, such as we have described in the thirteenth chapter of this book. But while the legislative power is exerted in acquiring an influence only over the actions of individuals, in order to promote a scheme of political oeconomy, uniform and consistent in all its parts, the consequence will be so far from introducing slavery among the people, that the execution of the plan will prove absolutely inconsistent with every arbitrary or irregular measure.
The power of a modern prince, let it be by the constitution of his kingdom, ever so absolute, immediately becomes limited so soon as he establishes the plan of oeconomy which we are endeavouring to explain. If his authority formerly resembled the solidity and force of the wedge (which may indifferently be made use of, for splitting of timber, stones and other hard bodies, and which may be thrown aside and taken up again at pleasure), it will at length come to resemble the delicacy of the watch, which is good for no other purpose than to mark the progression of time, and which is immediately destroyed, if put to any other use, or touched with any but the gentlest hand.
As modern oeconomy, therefore, is the most effectual bridle ever was invented against the folly of despotism; so the wisdom of so great a power never shines with greater lustre, than when we see it exerted in planning and establishing this oeconomy, as a bridle against the wanton exercise of itself in succeeding generations. I leave it to my reader to seek for examples in the conduct of our modern Princes, which may confirm what, I think, reason seems to point out: were they less striking, I might be tempted to mention them.
The part of our subject we are now to treat of, will present us with a system of political oeconomy, still more complicated than any thing we have hitherto met with.
While foreign trade flourishes and is extended, the wealth of a nation increases daily; but force is not so easily exerted, as after this wealth begins to circulate more at home, as we shall easily shew. But, on the other hand, the force she exerts is much more easily recruited. In the first case, her frugality enables her to draw new supplies out of the coffers of her neighbours; in the last, her luxury affords a resource from the wealth of her own citizens.
In opening my chapter, I have introduced my reader into a new country; or indeed I may say, that I have brought him back into that which we had under our consideration in the first book.
Here luxury and superfluous consumption will strike his view almost at every step. He will naturally compare the system of frugality, which we have dismissed, with that of dissipation, which we are now to take up; and he may very naturally conclude, that the introduction of the latter, must prove a certain forerunner of destruction. The examples found in history of the greatest monarchies being broken to pieces, so soon as the taste for simplicity was lost, seem to justify this conjecture. It is, therefore, necessary to examine circumstances a little, that we may compare, in this particular also, the oeconomy of the ancients with our own; in order to discover whether the introduction of luxury be as hurtful at present, as it formerly proved to those states which made so great a figure in the world; and which are known from history only, and judged of from the few scattered ruins, which remain to bear testimony of their former greatness.
Luxury is the child of wealth; and wealth is acquired by states, as by private people, either by a lucrative, or by an onerous title, as the civilians speak. The lucrative title, by which a state acquires, is either by rapine, or from her mines; the onerous title, or that for a valuable consideration, is by industry.
The wealth of the ancient monarchs of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, was the effect of rapine; whereas industry enriched the cities of Sydon, Tyre, Carthage, Athens, and Alexandria. The luxury of the first, proved the ruin of the luxurious; the luxury of the last, advanced their grandeur: because they had no rivals to take advantage of the natural effects of this luxury, in cutting off the profits of their foreign trade. Peace was as hurtful to the plunderers, as war was destructive to the industrious.
When an empire was at war, its wealth was thereby made to circulate for an equivalent in services performed. So soon as peace was restored, every one returned, as it were, to a state of slavery. The monarch then possessed himself of all the wealth, and distributed it by caprice. Fortunes were made in an instant, and no body knew how: they were lost again by transitions equally violent and sudden. The luxury of those days was attended with the most excessive oppression. Extraordinary consumption was no proof of the circulation of any adequate equivalent in favour of the industrious: it had not the effect of giving bread to the poor, nor of proportionally diminishing the wealth of the rich. The great remained constantly great; and the more they were prodigal, the more the small were brought into distress. In one word, luxury had nothing to recommend it, but that quality which solely constitutes the abuse of it in modern times; to wit, the excessive gratification of the passions of the great, which frequently brought on the corruption of their manners.
When such a state became luxurious, public affairs were neglected because it was not from a right administration that wealth was to be procured. War, under such circumstances, worked effects almost similar to the springing up of industry in modern times; it procured employment, and this produced a more regular circulation, as has been said.
On the other hand, the wealth and luxury of the trading cities above mentioned, which was of the same species with that of modern times, proceeded from the alienation of their work; that is, from their industry. Nothing was got for nothing, and when they were forced to go to war, they found themselves obliged either to dissipate their wealth, by hiring troops, or to abandon the resources of it, the labour of their industrious citizens. Thus the punic wars exalted the grandeur of plundering Rome, and blotted out the existence of industrious Carthage. I do not here pretend to vindicate the justness of these reflections in every circumstance, and it is foreign to my present purpose to be more particular; all I seek for, is to point out the different effects of luxury in ancient and modern times.
Ancient luxury was quite arbitrary; consequently could be laid under no limitations, but produced the worst effects, which naturally and mechanically could proceed from it.
Modern luxury is systematical; it cannot make one step, but at the expence of an adequate equivalent, acquired by those who stand the most in need of the protection and assistance of their fellow citizens; and without producing a vibration in the balance of their wealth. This balance is in the hands of the statesman, who may receive a contribution upon every such vibration. He has the reins in his hand, and may turn, restrain, and direct the luxury of his people, towards whatever object he thinks fit.
Luxury here is so far from drawing on a neglect of public affairs, that it requires the closest application to the administration of them, in order to support it. When these are neglected, the industrious will be brought to starve, consumption and taxes will diminish; that is, luxury will insensibly disappear, and hoarding will succeed it. These and similar consequences will undoubtedly take place, and mechanically follow one another, when a skilful hand is not applied to prevent them.
It is impossible not to perceive the advantages of supporting a flourishing inland trade, after the extinction of foreign commerce. By such means elegance of taste, and the polite arts, may be carried to the highest pitch. The whole of the inhabitants may be employed in working and consuming; all may be made to live in plenty and in ease, by the means of a swift circulation, which will produce a reasonable equality of wealth among all the inhabitants. Luxury can never be the cause of inequality, though it may be the effect of it. Hoarding and parsimony form great fortunes, luxury dissipates them and restores equality.
Such a situation would surely be of all others the most agreeable, and the most advantageous, were all mankind collected into one society, or were the country where it is established cut off from every communication with other nations.
The balance between work and demand would then only influence the balance of wealth among individuals, and the subversions of it would do little harm. If hands became scarce, the balance would turn the quicker in favour of the laborious, and the idle would grow poor. If hands became too plentiful (which indeed is hardly to be expected) every thing would be bought the cheaper; but the same quantity of national wealth would still remain without any diminution.
Where is, therefore, the great advantage of foreign trade?
I answer by putting another question. Where is the great advantage of a person's making a large fortune in his own country? A man of a small estate may, no doubt, be as happy as another with a great one; and the same thing would be true of nations, were all equally inspired with a spirit of peace and justice; or were they subordinate to a higher temporal power, which could protect the weak against the violence and injustice of the strong.
It is, therefore, the separate interests of nations who incline to communicate together, and consume part of one another's commodities, which renders the consideration of the principles of trade, a matter of great importance.
While nations contented themselves with their own productions, while the difference of their customs, and contrast of their prejudices were great, the connections between them were not very intimate.
From this proceeds the great diversity of languages and dialects. When a traveller finds a sudden transition from one language to another, or from one dialect to another, it is a proof that the manners of such people have been long different, and that they have had little communication with one another. On the contrary, when dialects change by degrees, as in the provinces of the same country, it is a proof that there has been no great repugnancy in their customs. In like manner, when we find several languages, at present different, but plainly deriving from the same source, we may conclude, that there was a time when such nations were connected by correspondence, or that the language has been transplanted from one to the other, by the migration of colonies. But I insensibly wander from my subject.
I have said, that when nations contented themselves with their own productions, connections between them were not very intimate. While trade was carried on by the exchange of consumable commodities, this operation also little interested the state: consumption then was equal on both sides; and no balance was found upon either. But so soon as the precious metals became an object of commerce, and when, by being rendered an universal equivalent for everything; they become also the measure of power between nations, then the acquisition, or at least the preservation of a proportional quantity of them, became to the more prudent, an object of the last importance.
We have seen how a foreign trade, well conducted, has the necessary effect of drawing wealth from all other nations. We have seen in what manner the benefit resulting from this trade may come to a stop, and how the balance of it may come round to the other side. We are now to examine how the same prudence which set foreign trade on foot, and supported it as long as possible, may put an effectual stop to it, and at the same time guard against a sudden revolution; to the end that a nation enriched by commerce may not, by blindly or mechanically carrying it on, when the balance is against her, fall into those inconveniences which other nations must have experienced during her prosperity.
Trade having subsisted long in the nation we are now to keep in our eye, I shall suppose that, through length of time, her neighbours have learned to supply one article of their own and other people's wants cheaper than she can do. What is to be done? Nobody will buy from her, when they can be supplied from another quarter at a less price. I say, what is to be done? For if there be no check put upon trade, and if the statesman do not interpose with the greatest care, it is certain, that merchants will import the produce, and even the manufactures of rival nations; the inhabitants will buy them preferably to their own; the wealth of the nation will be exported; and her industrious manufacturers will be brought to starve. We may therefore look upon this, as a problem in trade, to be resolved by the principles already established.
First, then, it must be inquired, if, in the branch in which she is undersold, her rivals enjoy a natural advantage above her, which no superior industry, frugality, or address on her side, can counterbalance? If this he the case, there are three different courses to be pursued, according to circumstances.
First, To renounce this branch of commerce entirely, and to take the commodities wanted from foreigners, as they can furnish them cheaper.
Secondly, To prohibit the importation of such commodities altogether.
Thirdly, To impose a duty upon importation, in order to raise the price of them so high as to make them dearer than the same kind of commodity produced at home.
The first course may be taken, if, upon examining how the hands employed in a manufacture may be disposed of, it be found, that they may easily be thrown into another branch of industry, in which the nation's natural advantages are as superior to her rivals, as their's are superior to her's in the branch she intends to abandon; and provided her neighbours will agree to open their ports to the free importation of the commodities in question. For though there may be little profit in a trade by exchange, I still think it advisable to continue correspondence, and to avoid every occasion of cutting off commerce with other nations. A laborious, oeconomical, and sagacious nation, such as I suppose our traders to be, will be able to profit of many circumstances, which would infallibly turn to the disadvantage of others less expert in commerce, with whom she trades; and in expectation of favourable revolutions, she ought not rashly, nor because of small inconveniences, to renounce trading with them; especially if luxury should appear there to be on the growing hand.
But suppose the rival nation will not consent to receive the manufactures, which the traders may produce with great natural advantages, what course is then the best to be taken?
I think she ought to encourage, for her own consumption, the branch in which she is rivalled, though she must give over exporting it; and, in this case, it must be examined, whether the importation of it should be prohibited altogether, (which is the second course mentioned above) or whether it be more advisable to prefer the last scheme, viz. to allow such commodities to be imported, with a duty which may raise their price to so just a height as neither to suffer them to he sold so cheap as to discourage the domestic fabrication, nor so dear, as to raise the profits of manufactures above a reasonable standard, in case of an augmentation of demand.
The second course must be taken, when the natural advantages of the foreign nations are so great, as to oblige the statesman to raise duties to such a height as to give encouragement to smuggling.
The third course seems the best, when the advantages of the rivals are more inconsiderable; in which case, the traders may, in time, and by the progress of luxury among their neighbours, or from other revolutions, which frequently happen in trading nations, regain their former advantages.
This may be the decision, in case a nation be rivalled in a branch where she has not equal advantages with her neighbours; and when she cannot compensate this inconvenience, either by her frugality or industry, or by the means of a proper application of her national wealth. These operations have been already fully explained, and are now considered as laid aside; not that we suppose they can ever cease to operate their effects in all nations; but in order to simplify our ideas, and to point out the principles which ought to direct a statesman's conduct upon occasions, where from different combinations of circumstances, he finds better expedients impracticable.
Let me next suppose a nation to be rivalled in her staple manufactures; that is, in those where she has the greatest natural advantages.
Whenever such a case happens, it must proceed from some vice within the state. Either from the progress of luxury in the workmen, which must proceed from consolidated profits, or from accidental disadvantages; such as dearness of subsistence, or from taxes injudiciously imposed. These (I mean all, except the taxes, of which afterwards) must be removed upon the principles above laid down: and if this cannot be compassed, no matter why; then comes the fatal period, when all foreign reciprocal commerce in manufactures must be given up. For if no profit can be made upon branches where a nation has the greatest natural advantages, it is more than probable, that every other branch will prove at least equally disadvantageous. If upon this revolution the ports of the nation be not shut against the importation of foreign manufactures, merchants will introduce them, and this will drain off the nation's wealth, and bring the industrious to starve.
It is upon this principle that incorporations are established. Of these we shall say a word, and conclude our chapter.
Cities and corporations, may be considered as nations, where luxury and taxes have rendered living so expensive, that goods cannot be furnished but at a high rate. If labour, therefore, of all kinds, were permitted to be brought from the provinces, or from the country, to supply the demand of the capital and smaller corporations, what would become of tradesmen and manufacturers who have their residence there? If these, on the other hand, were to remove beyond the liberties of such corporations, what would become of the public revenue, collected in these little states, as I may call them?
By the establishment of corporations, a statesman is enabled to raise high impositions upon all sorts of consumption; and notwithstanding these have the necessary consequence of increasing the price of labour, yet by other regulations, (of which afterwards,) the bad consequences thereby resulting to foreign trade may be avoided, and every article of exportation be prevented from rising above the proper standard for making it vendible, in spite of all foreign competition.
The plan of modern taxation seems first to have been introduced into cities, while the country was subject to the barons, and remained in a manner quite free from it. Cities having obtained the privilege of incorporation, began, in consequence of the powers vested in their magistrates, to levy taxes: and finding the inconveniences resulting from external competition (foreign trade), they erected the different classes of their industrious into confraternities, or corporations of a lower denomination, with power to prevent the importation of work from their fellow tradesmen not of the society.
Here arises a question.
Why are corporations complained of in many countries, as being a check upon industry; if the establishment of them proceed from so plain a principle as this here laid down?
Let me draw my answer from another question. Why are they not complained of in all countries?
The difference between the situation of one country and another, will plainly point out the principle which ought to regulate the establishment and government of corporations. When this is well understood, all disputes concerning the general utility, or harm arising from them will be at an end: and the question will be brought to the proper issue; to wit, their relative utility considered with respect to the actual situation of the country where they are established. In one province a corporation will be found to be useful, in another just the contrary.
First then it must be agreed, on all hands, that the principle laid down is just. Nobody ever advanced, that the industry carried on in towns, where living is dear, ought to suffer a competition with that of the country, where living is cheap; I mean for the direct consumption of the citizens. But it may be alleged, that no subaltern corporation should enjoy an exclusive privilege against those who share of every burthen imposed by the great corporation from which they draw their existence: and that they have no right of exclusion against citizens; but against strangers only, who are not under the same jurisdiction, nor liable to the same burthens. Here the dispute lies between the members of the great corporation and those of the smaller. Now, I say, while no other interest is concerned, the decision of this question ought to be left to the corporation itself. But the moment the public good comes to be affected by certain privileges enjoyed by individuals, such privileges should either be abolished, or put under limitations.
In countries where industry stands at a determinate height, while the consumption of cities neither augments or diminishes; while those who live upon an income acquired, live uniformly in the same way; while this regular consumption is regularly supplied, by a certain number of citizens sufficient to supply it; while the hands employed for this purpose are in a perfect proportion to the demand made upon them; in such countries, I say, any diminution of the privileges of corporations, would be a mean of overturning the equal balance between work and demand.
We have said above, that when hands become too many for the work, profits fall below the necessary standard of subsistence; that the industrious enter into competition for the physical-necessary, and hurt one another. Here then is the principle which the corporation ought to keep in its eye: the profits under every trade ought to be in proportion to the demand for it.
In order the better to support this proportion, many towns in Germany have the subaltern corporations of trades restrained to certain numbers. There is a determinate number of apothecaries, joiners, smiths, &c. allowed in every town, and no more; according as employment is found for them. This seems a good regulation. I do not say but it may be abused. But the power of administration must be lodged somewhere; and if in a country where industry is making little progress, corporations were laid open, the consequence would be, that every workman would starve another, and the consumers would be ill served.
On the other hand, when industry springs up, when the manners of a people change all of a sudden, or by quick degrees, as has been the case in many countries in Europe within these threescore years: it is a mark of a narrow capacity not to perceive that a change of administration becomes necessary; and if on such revolutions those who are at the head of corporations should wish to profit of the increase of demand, in order to raise prices in favour of the incorporated workmen, the infallible consequence would be, to make the city become deserted, and deprived of a trade, which otherwise would necessarily fall to her share, in consequence of the advantage she must draw from establishments already made for supplying every branch of consumption.(1*) But let the principle above mentioned be constantly followed; let profits be kept at a right standard; let hands be increased according to demand; let the city workmen gain no advantage over those of the country which may not be compensated by the difference of the price of living; let the disadvantages again on the side of the town affect their own consumption only, not the surplus of their industry; let every convenience for carrying on foreign trade (every thing here is understood to be foreign, which does not enter into the consumption of the town) be provided for in the suburbs, or, if you please, in a place out of the town walled in for this purpose; let markets there be held for every kind of work coming from the country; and then the true intent of a corporation will be answered. If it be found that the prosperity of trade demands still more liberty, then the corporation may be thrown open; but on the other hand, every burthen must be taken off, and every incorporated member must be indemnified by the state, for the loss he is thereby made to suffer.
The great change daily operating on the spirit of European nations, where corporations have been long established, without any great inconvenience having been found to arise from them, suggest these reflections, which seem naturally to flow from the principles to which we refer. I shall only add, that from the practice of imposing taxes within these little republics (as I have called them) Princes seem to have taken the hint of extending this system; by first appropriating to the public revenue, what the cities had established in favour of themselves, and then by enlarging the plan as circumstances favoured their design. That this is the true origin of the modern plan of taxation (I mean that upon consumption) may be gathered from hence; that the right of imposing taxes appears no where, almost, to have been essentially attached to royalty, even in those kingdoms, where Princes have long enjoyed an unlimited constitutional authority over the persons of their subjects. An authority, which I take to be the least equivocal characteristic of an absolute and unlimited power. I know of no christian monarchy (except, perhaps, Russia) where either the consent of states, or the approbation or concurrence of some political body within the state, has not been requisite to make the imposition of taxes constitutional; and if more exceptions be found, I believe it will not be difficult to trace the origin of such an exertion of sovereign authority, without ascending to a very high antiquity. The prerogative of Princes in former times, was measured by the power they could constitutionally exercise over the persons of their subjects; that of modern princes, by the power they have over their purse.
Having, therefore, shewn the necessity of putting a stop to foreign reciprocal commerce in manufactures, so soon as in every branch this trade becomes disadvantageous to a nation; the next question is how to proceed in the execution of so great an undertaking, so as to avoid a sudden and violent revolution in the oeconomy of the state, which is of all things the most dangerous: the hurt, therefore, ought to be foreseen at a great distance, in order to be methodically prevented.
It must not be understood, from what was said in the last chapter, that so soon as the balance of foreign trade, either on the whole, or on any branch of manufacture, is found to be against a nation, that a statesman should then at once put a total stop to it. This is too violent a remedy ever to be applied with success.
It is hardly possible, that a considerable revolution in the trade of a nation should happen suddenly, either to its advantage, or disadvantage, unless in times of civil discord, or foreign wars, which at present do not enter into the question.
A sagacious statesman will, at all times, keep a watchful eye upon every branch of foreign commerce, especially upon importations. These consist either in the natural produce of other countries, or in such produce increased in its value by manufacture.
In all trade, two things are to be considered in the commodity sold. The first is the matter; the second is the labour employed to render this matter useful.
The matter exported from a country, is what the country loses; the price of the labour exported, is what it gains.
If the value of the matter imported be greater than the value of what is exported, the country gains. If a greater value of labour be imported, than exported, the country loses. Why? Because in the first case, strangers must have paid, in matter, the surplus of labour exported; and in the second case, because the country must have paid to strangers, in matter, the surplus of labour imported.
It is therefore a general maxim, to discourage the importation of work. and to encourage the exportation of it.
When any manufacture begins to be imported, which was usually made at home, it is a mark that either the price of it begins to rise within the country, or that strangers are making a new progress in it. On the other hand, when the importation of manufactures consumed within a country comes to diminish, and when merchants begin to lose upon such branches of trade, it is a proof that industry at home is gaining ground in those articles. The statesman then must take the hint, and set out by gently clogging the importation of those commodities, not so as to put a stop to it all at once; because this might have the effect of carrying profits too high upon the home-fabrication of them.
All sudden revolutions are to be avoided. A sudden stop upon a large importation, raises the prices of domestic industry by jerks, as it were; they do not rise gradually; and these extraordinary profits engage too many people to endeavour to share in them. This occasions a desertion from other branches of industry equally profitable to the state. Such revolutions do great harm; because it is a long time before people come to be informed of their true cause, and during the uncertainty, they are in a wilderness, as it were, surprised and delighted with the consequences of them, according as their several interests are affected by them. Every one accounts for the phenomena in a different way. Some are for applying remedies against the inconveniences; while others are totally taken up in profiting to the utmost of every momentary advantage. In a word, nothing is more hurtful than a sudden revolution in so complicated an interest as that of the whole class of the industrious, in a modern society. When therefore such changes happen, in spite of all a statesman can do, the best way to prevent the inconveniences which they draw along with them, is to inform the public of the true causes of every change, favourable or hurtful to the several classes of inhabitants. This also seems to be the best method to engage every one to concur in rendering the proper remedies effectual, when the inconveniences themselves cannot be prevented. So much for a scheme for encouraging growing manufactures, or for supporting them in their decline. I proceed next to consider the methods for preventing the loss of others already established.
We have said, that the importation of any article of consumption usually provided at home, was a proof by no means equivocal of a foreign rivalship. I shall say nothing at present, of the methods to be used as a remedy for this inconvenience: these have been already discussed. We must now suppose, every one that might be contrived for this purpose, to have become ineffectual; and foreign industry to be so far gaining ground, as daily, more and more, to supply the several branches of domestic consumption.
Upon this, the statesman will begin by laying the importation of such commodities under certain restrictions. If these do not prove sufficient, they will be increased: and if the augmentation produces frauds, difficult to be prevented, the articles will be prohibited altogether. By this method of proceeding, it will be found, that without any violent or sudden prohibition laid all at once upon foreign trade. by little and little, every pernicious branch of it will be cut off, till at last it will cease altogether, as in the case mentioned above; to wit, when the most advantageous branches of it cannot be carried on without loss.
Something, however, must here be added, in order to restrain so general a plan of administration. Nothing is more complex than the interests of trade, considered with respect to a whole nation. It is hardly possible for a people to have every branch of trade favourable for the increase of her wealth: consequently, a statesman who, upon the single inspection of one branch, would lay the importation of it under limitations, in proportion as he found the balance upon it unfavourable to the nation, might very possibly undo a flourishing commerce.
He must first examine minutely every use to which the merchandize imported is put: if a part is re-exported with profit, this profit must be deducted from the balance of loss incurred by the consumption of the remainder. If it be consumed upon the account of other branches of industry, which are thereby advanced, the balance of loss may still be more than compensated. If it be a mean of supporting a correspondence with a neighbouring nation, otherwise advantageous, the loss resulting from it may be submitted to, in a certain degree. But if upon examining the whole chain of consequences, he find the nation's wealth not at all increased, nor her trade encouraged, in proportion to the damage at first incurred by the importation; I believe he may decide such a branch of trade to be hurtful; and therefore that it ought to be cut off, in the most prudent manner, according to the general rule.
The first object of the care of a statesman, who governs a nation, which is upon the point of losing her foreign trade, without any prospect or probability of recovering it, is to preserve the wealth she has already acquired. No motive ought to engage him to sacrifice this wealth, the safety alone of the whole society excepted, when suddenly threatened by foreign enemies. The gratification of particular people's habitual desires, although the wealth they possess may enable them, without the smallest hurt to their private fortunes, to consume the productions of other nations; the motive of preventing hoards; that of promoting a brisk circulation within the country; the advantages to be by caring on a trade made by merchants, who may enrich themselves disadvantageous to the nation; to say all in one word, even the supporting of the same number of inhabitants, ought not to engage his consent to the diminution of national wealth.
Here follow my reasons for carrying this proposition so very far as to recommend the incurring of the loss of a part of the inhabitants to that of any considerable part of the wealth acquired; and I flatter myself, that when duly examined, I may avoid the smallest imputation of Machiavellian principles, in consequence of so bold an assertion.
While a people are fed with the produce of their own lands, the preservation of their numbers is quite consistent with the preservation of their wealth. If, therefore, in such a case, their numbers should be diminished upon a decay of foreign trade, either by the exportation of their food, or by their lands becoming uncultivated, I should never hesitate to lay the blame upon the statesman's administration.
But an industrious people may (as has been said) carry their numbers far beyond the proportion of their own growth. The deficiency must then be supplied from abroad, and must be paid for with the balance of the trade in their favour. Now when this balance comes to turn against them, and when, consequently, a stop is put to the disadvantageous foreign trade, upon the principles we have been laying down, the statesman is reduced to this alternative; either annually to allow a part of the wealth already got, to be exported, in order to buy subsistence for the surplus of his people, as I may call them; or to reduce their numbers by degrees (either by encouragements given to their leaving the country, or by establishing colonies, &c.) until they be brought down to the just proportion of the growth of national subsistence. If he prefers the first, supposing the execution of such a plan to be possible, the consequence will be, that so soon as all the wealth is spent, the whole society, except the proprietors of the lands, and those who cultivate them, must go to destruction. If he prefers the second, he will remain independent of all the world with respect to the inhabitants he will preserve. They will remain in a capacity of maintaining themselves, and he may alter the plan of his political oeconomy as best may suit his circumstances, relatively to other nations. While all his subjects are employed and provided for, he will remain at the head of a flourishing and a happy people.
It may be here objected, that the first alternative is an impossible supposition. I allow it to be so, if you suppose it to be carried the length to which I have traced it; because no power whatsoever in a statesman can go so far as to preserve numbers at the expense of the whole riches of his people. But I can very easily suppose a case, where numbers may be supported at an eminent loss to a state which finds itself in the situation in which we have represented it in our supposition.
Suppose a prince, upon the failure of his foreign trade, to increase his army, in proportion as he finds his industrious hands become idle by a deficiency of demand for their labour; suppose him to fill his magazines for their subsistence by foreign importation, leaving the produce of his country to feed the rest of his subjects. By such a plan, every body will remain employed, and also provided for, and such a prince may be looked upon as a most humane governor. This I willingly agree to. I should love such a prince; but the more I loved him, the more I should regret that his project must fail, from a physical impossibility of its being long supported; and when it comes to fail by the exhausting of his wealth, it will not be his regrets which will give bread to his soldiers, nor employment to his industrious subjects, who will no longer find an equivalent for their labour.
Let this suffice at present, upon the general principles which influence the stop necessary to be put to the importation of foreign commodities, and to the diminution of national wealth, in the case we have had before us.
Next, as to the articles of exportation. The most profitable branches of exportation are those of work, the less profitable those of pure natural produce. When work cannot be exported in all its perfection, because of its high price, it is better to export it with a moderate degree of perfection, than not at all; and if even this cannot be done to advantage, then will a people be obliged to renounce manufacturing except for themselves: and then, if domestic consumption do not increase in proportion to the deficiency of foreign demand, a certain number of hands will be idle, and a certain quantity of natural produce will remain upon hand. The first must disappear in a short time; they will starve or desert; the last will become an article of exportation. Here then is a new species of trade which takes place upon the extinction of the other. When a nation has been forced to reduce her exportations to articles of pure natural produce, in conformity to the principles we have been laying down, then the plan proposed in the title of this chapter is executed. She is then brought as low in point of trade as she can be, but, at the same time, she may enjoy her natural advantages in spite of fortune; and in proportion to them, she may, with a good government and frugality, retain a balance of trade in her favour, which will constantly go on in augmenting her national wealth.
There is, therefore, a period at which foreign trade may stop in every article, but in natural produce. I do not know whether this period be at a great distance, when the state of trade is considered relatively to certain nations of Europe.
Were industry and frugality found to prevail equally in every part of these great political bodies, or were luxury and superfluous consumption every where carried to the same height, trade might, without any hurt, be thrown entirely open. It would then cease to be an object of a statesman's care and concern. On the other hand, were all nations equally careful to check every branch of unprofitable commerce, a general stagnation of trade would soon be brought about. Manufactures would no more be the object of traffic; every nation would supply itself, and nothing would be either exported or imported, but natural productions.
But as industry and idleness, luxury and frugality, are constantly changing their balance throughout the nations of Europe, able merchants make it their business to inform themselves of these fluctuations, and able statesmen profit of the discovery for the re-establishment of their own commerce; and when they find that this can no more be carried on with the manufactures or produce of their own country, they engage their merchants to become carriers for their neighbours, and by these means, form as it were a third and last entrenchment, which, while they can defend it, will not suffer their foreign trade to be quite extinguished; because, by this last expedient, it may continue for some time to increase their national stock. It is in order to cut off even this resource, that some nations lay not only importations under restraint, but also the importers. Let such precautions be carried to a certain length on all hands, and we shall see an end to the whole system of foreign trade, so much à-la-mode, that it appears to become more and more the object of the attention as well as of the imitation of all modern statesmen.
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